Monday, 30 August 2010

A Sunny Bank Holiday Monday - Danish pastry, Coffee and the Paper

The first time I made pastries they were a nightmare. On impulse at 11pm I decided to ‘quickly’ russel up some dough ready for the next morning – boy was that a bad idea. Half way through piling yet more butter into the middle it all started to melt which meant it oozed out the cracks when I folded the dough and stuck to everything it possibly could including me! Persevering, I managed to assemble some slightly dodgy looking almond croissants. Nevertheless, freshly baked the next morning they tasted divine (as only something with a whole pat of butter could!) and though I said never again, I couldn’t help but hanker to make more as a bank holiday treat, as they far surpass any supermarket pastry – and so here they are – some seriously rustic but utterly delicious almond pastries.

For the pastry dough
450g strong plain flour
½ teaspoon salt
350g butter, chilled
1 sachet easy-blend dried yeast
50g caster sugar
10 tablespoons warm milk
2 eggs, beaten
A little beaten egg to glaze
Almond paste
100g ground almonds
100g caster sugar
Enough beaten egg to bind
Glacé icing (100g sieved icing sugar mixed with a little water)
Toasted Almonds
  • Measure the flour and salt into a bowl and rub in 50g of the butter. Mix in the yeast and sugar.
  • Make a well in the centre, add the warm milk and eggs, and mix to a soft dough.
  • Knead the dough until smooth (I use the bread attachment of my mixer) and leave in a warm place to rise until doubled (about 1hr)
  • Punch down the dough, knead until smooth and roll, on a floured surface, to an oblong about 35-20 cms
  • Dot half the remaining butter over the top two third of the oblong (making sure not to go too near the edges), then fold the bottom third up and the top third down. Seal the edges by pushing down with the side of your hand.
  • Give a quarter turn so that the fold is on the left and roll to an oblong, cover with butter and fold all in the same way.
  • Wrap in cling film and chill for 15 mins. Roll and fold the dough twice more then refrigerate again for 15mins
  • It is now ready for shaping. N.B. if you find butter has squeezed out, roll with cling film on top to stop sticking.
  • For a croissant shape: Roll one quarter of the dough into a circle 23cm across. Cut into four across the middle to make four quarters. Take one, place a heaped teaspoon of the almond paste along the curved edge and then roll starting at the longest edge.
  • Glaze with the egg and cook for 15mins at 200˚ C
  • Cool on a wire rack, drizzle with the glace icing and sprinkle with the almonds

Saturday, 28 August 2010

What I've Been Cooking

So, since I just started blogging, I thought it would be nice to put some of my recent photos of food in one post rather than leave them unused. I wish I was a better photographer - the ravioli is particularly dire - and it is hard when I have people wanting to eat it straight away! The cake is a beloved recipe that my friend Kate and I wrote up for the uni magazine in a (somewhat vain) attempt to make the average student more adventurous! 
Nigella's Courgette Cake
This salad was a perfect way to use up a seriously large knobbly cucumber and very unusual with the crunch of the seeds and sweet vinegary dressing. 
Ottolenghi's Cucumber and Poppy Seed Salad
The 'easy' fresh pasta was actually fantastically stubborn as it kept laddering like tights when I rolled it out. Eventually (with the help of a rolling pin) I got silk like sheets ready for the squash and marscapone filling.

Theo Randall's First Autumnal Pumpkin Ravioli
The largest, juiciest end of season figs...
Grilled Figs Wrapped in Parma Ham with Honey

Stylishly Sated In...Barcelona

Last summer I spent a weekend in Barcelona - one of the most exciting cities I had been to in a while and a gastronomic haven. The hotel we stayed in, Murmuri, was achingly cool – lots of fabulous wall to ceiling mirrors and statement furniture. But of course, contemporary living is a given for a city that boasts the Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia: one of the most awe-inspiring and bizarre, ongoing building sites in the world.

A trip to the Boqueria Market on La Rambla was equally inspiring with stands laden with piles of a variety of freshly caught fish, mounds of cheeses and rows of vegetables and fruits for sale. Just wandering around the colourful stalls made me want to get cooking and lament the lack of these kinds of markets near where I live.

I loved the restaurant Euskal Etxea in the Placeta Montcada which served pintxos – something I’d never heard of before, but now know as large tapas or the equivalent of Italian bruschetta or the French canapé. It is a fantastic place as all the pintxos are lined up on shelves of plates so you can peruse and choose what you want all for as little as £1.50 each. And they are delicious! For anyone like me who gets food envy (or regrets an order) the portion size meant that one could try every single one (if starving!).

Another memorable meal was at our hotel’s restaurant, Bar Marfil, which served a fusion of Mediterranean and Asian food. We had some wok fried tiger prawns which were very juicy and sticky with a sake sauce, a selection of perfectly formed sushi and some delicate salmon tartar tartlets. The puddings were equally delicious if not better as they were so original – jasmine rice ice cream and an amazing banana and chocolate spring roll which looked beautiful on the plate, cut on the diagonal with jasmine flowers sprinkled over and balls of burnt honey ice cream mmm... Unfortunately one to many Sangrias resulted in a shameful photo and so if you have not been already you simply must to see and taste for yourself! 

Friday, 27 August 2010

The Rise of The Barbour

Alexa Chung
If you keep one eye on the fashion press you will have noticed that the Barbour has become a sartorial thumbs up for the last couple of years. First pictured at the festivals with Alexa Chung’s stick thin, booted legs poking out and more recently all over London. My own Barbour - bought 10 years ago secondhand by my mother for me to use in the 'outdoor work' sports option at school (yes, building barns was considered a sport) - is mud splattered and stiff to a crisp from all the years of wear and tear, yet it is still being routinely taken on dog walks, dragged around festivals and often used as a rug on less than sunny picnics. So, the sight of it wandering around the cream floors of Harvey Nichols is frankly bizarre. But this is the Barbour not as we (countryfolk) know it – this is the city Barbour. It’s wax is gleaming, it is so soft that it drapes over the body and it is slightly smug at its new position as the nonchalant drapery of the fashionista. The city Barbour prefers to be paired with stripy Breton tops, the latest ‘it’ bag and towering heels rather than Hunter wellies and jeans.
Anya Hindmarch for Barbour, £375 (waiting list applies)
Olivia Palermo
I admit it looks fabulous - there is something perfect about the way it acts as a welcome foil to somewhat more glamorous fashion pieces (take New Yorker Olivia Palermo sporting hers, belted, with a Chloé bag and heels). And of course, according to Vogue, the country look is very ‘in’ this season ('when was it ever ‘out’?' I whisper indignantly). If one needed further assurance of the wax jacket’s stardom, the grande dame of accessories, Anya Hindmarch, has collaborated with the brand producing four to-die-for limited edition jackets and coats (my preference is for the glamour puss jacket above). So, the rise of the Barbour from country girl staple to international jet setter is almost complete - it has reasserted itself in it’s homeland, has trotted along the sidewalks of New York and according to an Athenian friend, the Barbour is all the rage amongst the hippest students in Athens – the humble Barbour styled against the ancient ruins of the Acropolis, now that's something I'd like to see.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

What I Ate For Supper: Tom Yum Soup

My birthday was at the weekend which meant bellini cocktails, cake(s), a picnic on the beach (complete with Pan Bagnat which I’ll write up shortly) and fabulous meals out and about – safe to say getting into my jeans was not a happy experience. Enter the famous Thai Tom Yum soup – delicious, filling and with just the right amount of spice to ram any metabolism back up to speed. I played with this recipe by LEON (my new favourite cookbook) so that it was to my taste (adding prawns + soba noodles) but you could add anything - sweet corn, shredded chicken, green beans etc - once you’ve got the zingy Thai paste and coconut base.

Serves 4

For the paste
3 cloves of garlic peeled
2 sticks of lemongrass, roughly chopped
30g root ginger, sliced
3 lime leaves
1-2 red chillies (hot or hotter), roughly chopped
2 shallots, peeled
40ml sunflower or groundnut oil (or enough to wet the paste)

1 x 400ml tin coconut milk
200g frozen peas
150g button mushrooms, sliced
2 medium good quality tomatoes
200g soba noodles
A couple of handfuls of prawns
1 lime
1 spring onion, sliced on a strong diagonal

1.      Blend all the paste ingredients to a purée.
2.      Put into a hot pan and stir for a few minutes to release the aromas. Add 400ml of water, the coconut milk and a pinch of salt. Bring to a simmer.
3.      Meanwhile, cook the noodles for 5 inutes in boiling salted water, drain.
4.      Turn off the heat and stir in the peas, mushrooms and prawns.
5.      Cut the tomatoes into thin slices and lay 2 or 3 at the bottom of each warmed bowl. Distribute the noodles between each bowl and spoon the hot soup over each.
6.      Finish with a sprinkle of spring onions, a wedge of lime and extra chilli if required.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

'Since everything is in our heads, we had better not lose them' - Coco Chanel

Well, after a summer of eating I have finally summoned the courage to write an online diary of my favourite activity: cooking. 

There is nothing I like more than afternoon tea: scones with lashings of cream and jam, lemon curd cake…I could go on, but equally I have a weakness for clothes so I try to balance my cake addiction with the most delicious healthy (ish) recipes I can find plus as many runs as I can fit in! Having been a student for the last 4 years I am also painfully aware of how one’s budget can hinder gourmet fantasies so I am truly relishing being the official chef back at my family home.
I want to fill this blog with recipes, foodie destinations plus a scattering of beautiful interiors and gardens and the odd potter into fashion. It is mainly a selfish blog for my own ponderings but if you do stumble upon it I hope you enjoy and feel free to comment!